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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.

It's the money, stupid

With the school year already under way at the Indiana schools targeted for takeover, the State Board of Education's assignment of turnaround operators for the affected schools doesn't officially go into effect until next year.

Steve Hinnefeld, who blogs at School Matters, points out the interesting dilemma created by the delay. He cites Emma Donnan Middle School in Indianapolis:

"IPS is doing what you're supposed to do to turn the school around. It brought in a new principal, Brian Burke, and gave him the authority to remake the school. He got rid of two-thirds of the staff, replacing them with teachers who were selected in part for being passionate and caring about children.

"Those teachers now will spend the year preparing to turn the school over to Charter Schools USA.

"There's a very real possibility that, after knocking themselves out to help a challenging group — more than 80 percent of Donnan students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a quarter are in special education and over 10 percent speak a primary language other than English – these teachers will be shown the door.

"And Charter Schools USA will take credit for the progress that they made."

Hinnefeld notes that at least one State Board member pointed out that possibility, suggesting that maybe the new principal and teachers should be retained if the middle school improves significantly this year.

But that's not going to happen. Richard Page, Charter Schools USA's vice president for development, said the company typically replaces administrators and staff when it takes over a school.

Page's disclosure strips away the pretense of school improvement as the goal. In admitting that successful teachers likely will be fired, he proves that the for-profit company isn't really interested in what works for students, it's interested in increasing profits by hiring lower-paid employees.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at